Laying the ground for golf

Posted by AV GOLF INTERNATIONAL on December 3, 2016 at 3:05 AM

Golf architecture has its own philosophy that reflects in the design

Nearly all popular sports have standardised playing fields. Not so with golf. Except for the size of the hole into which the ball must eventually enter, there is no level playing field when it comes to any other aspect of the course. From three-hole courses in 5-7 acre land to 18-hole championship golf courses that span over 125 acres, nearly every golf course is unique and distinctive. Not just that; each and every hole in any golf course is different and this is what makes golf a truly unique sport. 

And designing a course is hence both an art and a science. In the past, golfing locations were chosen in such a way that they naturally had the desired landforms, grasses and hazards. Blind shots, crossing fairways and a variety in the number of holes were all considered par for the course (see graph). Modern ones have integrated the traditions of the game, while innovating to increase the appeal to suit the new age.

Different strokes

Designing a single hole in a golf course is no child’s play. “It takes anywhere between ₹2-₹5 crore to build one golf hole, depending on the amount of earth to be moved, the type of grass used and whether or not the fairways need to be sand capped or not”, says Arjun Lall, Director - Golf Operations, Zion Hills Golf County.

Golf course designs are divided into two types — links and parkland. The links are usually next to the sea. They tend to be windy and with less greenery and require less effort to maintain. Parkland courses are the typical image of golf course with green fairways, lots of trees and water bodies serving as hazards.

Based on the game, courses can be classified into different types. For instance, a par three course is one where each hole has a par of three. For the uninitiated, par refers to the number of strokes that an expert golfer needs to finish the course. An executive course, popular with beginners, high handicappers, seniors and players with limited time has mostly par three holes and the maximum par for the course rarely exceeds 64. A regulation course, on the other hand, has a total par of 70 to 72. A championship course is designed keeping in mind length, challenge, playability and aesthetics for playing major tournaments.

The same course can be configured differently as well. For instance, a course can be made suitable for weekend golfers and for a Championship, says Lall. “Each of the holes can be lengthened substantially to make it more challenging. The roughs can be grown and the fairways can be narrowed. The greens can be made to roll really fast as well”, he says. 

Likewise public, private and resort golf courses have different end goals and are designed accordingly. In a public golf course, fast play and easy maintenance are higher priority, while challenge of the design and quality of the turf outweigh these considerations in a private course. Resort courses place emphasis on aesthetics. “This is accomplished through the artistic use of retaining walls, sand colour, plant material, fairway contouring, views and vistas and general course maintenance”, says Aashish Vaishnava , CEO and Golf Course Architect at AV Golf International.

Matter of style

Architects also use various design methods to challenge, reward and penalize players. For example, in a heroic design style, hazards are positioned to give the golfer a choice to play around, on a longer route to the green. They can also negotiate a full carry over the hazard – partly or fully, and be rewarded with an easier subsequent shot. “The design enables players to bite off what they can chew”, says Vaishnava.

Alternatively, in the penal design style, poor shots are penalized by placing hazards directly in the line of play. A player must carry the hazard as there is no route provided to play around it. The popular one is strategic design, which gives golfers the option of taking a risk in order to reduce the difficulty of a subsequent shot. Width is an essential ingredient of strategic golf, along with cleverly positioned hazards that tempt and test golfers across the ability spectrum.

Architects have their own philosophy that reflects in the design. For example, Ron Fream believes that a poor golfer with a big ego deserves no mercy. Each hole in the Zion Hill golf course he designed is set to be reactive to the golfers game and balance risk reward pay off. The course retained a few strategically located trees, adding to the challenge of some holes says Lall.

Designers may also go for minimalist philosophy by retaining the natural terrain. They also consider factors to both challenge and reward golfers. For instance, they ensure that there is variety and balance in the length, orientation and playing strategy of holes and there is inducement for golfers to create new shots and skills.

Green in spirit

Golf courses are also swinging for sustainability and environment-friendly architectures. Ongoing maintenance is just as expensive as building a course — maintenance costs that include machinery and staff can be ₹2-4 crore per year, says Lall.

Keeping the course lush green is a great challenge and requires a lot of water, fertilisers and other related resources. Vaishnava says that the trend now is to keep the greens, fairways and tees well manicured but the rough areas and the non-playable zones less green and more brown.

In new developments, the choice of grass plays a vital role in the look and feel as well as ongoing maintenance of the course. For instance, the type of grass that is selected must be suitable for the weather condition, appearance and maintenance requirements. Warm season grasses such as Bermuda have poor shade tolerance, while cool season grasses such as bentgrass do well with consistent rainfall or irrigation, says Vaishnava.



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